Sunday, February 24, 2008

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Influence of stuff and the horror of figure leaning

Sometimes, people can do the strangest things because of stuff they buy. A 45 year old salaryman will spend his entire weekend waxing his newly bought BMW 3-series, a 26 year old woman will simply must show off her Chanel suit (although the colours are totally ugly and size is too small) and your neighbour's 6 year old kid will fight his best friend over the pog he supposedly won.

I do not know what causes this phenomenon, but I can describe what they're probably feeling. When you buy something you really like, you start a full-fledged love affair with it. You love looking at it, love breathing it, and love bragging about it. And whenever it is hurt or damaged in any way, the primal instincts handily take care of any shred of intelligence, restraint and dignity, and thus occurs the weird behaviour that is observed.

So, as all regular people, otaku are also affected by this process. But even moreso. Because one of the things we buy (figures) are hideously precious. Bought with little money available and sometimes after painful cycles of preorders and internet retailing, we want our figures to be as perfect as they can be. That is why we bitch when we discover any mold line, PVC flash or paint mishap and why blister packs end up unopened.

But the greatest horror is when the figure is actually damaged. The local cat, little sister, or ignorant significant other have caused agony with which we can all relate to. But it can get even worse. And that is figure leaning. This is worse because the figure comes to life by deforming itself and making itself hideous in the process. Moreover, since there is to external assailant involved, it is an insult from the manufacturer, who mocks you with shoddy quality control and substandard manufacturing. Almost all what makes you like the figure, makes you hate it.

Overly worded rant aside, figure leaning is indeed an issue with figurines today. There have been many articles about this issue, of which this one ( is a great one. This issue is due to the malleable nature of PVC, the material of which many figurines are made. PVC gets its rigidity and longevity from the plastic coating applied on it: this is not only important for figurines, but also for medical uses of PVC (PVC catheters are cheap, but the plastizer can cause allergies). It's usually not the quality of the PVC, but the quality of the coating that defines the resistance of a figure to deformation.

The most important cause of leaning however is not the material, but the support system and center of gravity of a figure. As you may know, most figures come with their own display base and cannot stand on their own. The base usually sports pegs or screws placed in such a way, that the figure will remain in the pose it's supposed to. Usually, this is done in such a way that the center of gravity of the figure (the point of the figure on which gravity pulls) is balanced by support points, thus equilibrating the figure. You can see this on this example:

The blue arrow represents the center of gravity, and the green dots the support points. As you can see, there are 2-3 points behind this centre, and 1-2 in front. This will "pull" the figure to the center, without straining any of these supports and the location of the figure anchored to these points. This figure (Tomoko Hoshina of "To Heart" by Kotobukiya, a plain and cheap figure) will thus be very unlikely to warp or lean.

Next, we have a figure that almost everyone knows and probably owns:

We see that the situation is different. Ignis' center of gravity is located slightly anteriorly: this is due to her stance, but also due to the relatively low mass of the hair. Also, the support pegs are located on the tip of both her shoes. Ideally, she should've had a stance in which one leg would be in front and the other behind the center of gravity, or additional supports posteriorly. This is however not the case. So, strain on her front feet and also her lower extremities (ankles) occurs. And over time, leaning may insue.

My cure was twofold: first, I stuck some transparent poster putty on her right heel: this is place where there should've been a support point. Secondly, I place the figure on a minor (10-20 °) bank posteriorly, to place the center of gravity between her feet and alleviate structural stress. This "bank" trick doesn't need to be done constantly, I do it once a week during one night or something, but this depends on the center of gravity, ambient temperature, support locations, etc.

Sorry for the crappy rotated image.

So, first, ascertain the center of gravity. Then, if possible, search for candidate locations for extra support points. And, if necessary, display the figure under an angle so that the center of gravity moves to..well..the center ^_^.

So, you'll see this 23 year old dude sticking glue on figure's shoes..I prefer that to a bunch of PVC Smooth Criminals.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Moonlight Sonata -- Presto Agitato (3rd Movement)

Been awhile since I posted.

I've been frantically trying to learn the 3rd movement of the Moonlight Sonata. You know, not the slow, melodramatic stuff from the beginning, but the furiously quick, insane bit from the end. This piece has always blown me away and I always thought it was out of my range of skill. This is because I've never had any training or teaching whatsoever. I still use this little cheat sheet with all the notes written besides the 2 clefs and a guide to how long notes are.
Usually, I listen to the music, and try to copy it step by step. It worked with "A Thousand Miles" (Vanessa Carlton), and two songs from "Amélie" (Yann Tiersen). But classical pieces are difficult to analyze, for Für Elise I had to consult the score for the first middle bit.

Now, I started using the sheet from day 1.

And what a miserable day that was. The arpeggio was totally crooked, first note was too loud and long and the three others either were too soft, one of em skipped, or mistaken. I spend that night only playing that 1 arpeggio on my old toy Casio keyboard (50 bucks or something, but still of use).

After I was able to do the arpeggio constantly, with even volume and timing, I gradually started training the left hand. This wasn't as easy at it seemed: although it's only a repetition of 2 notes, the second note is the same as the first note of the first arpeggio, and simultaneous with the second note of the arpeggio. My fingers constantly bumped into each other, and I needed 1,5 day to figure it out.

More posts as I progress, I'm sleepy now..see ya soon!

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Mira -- Winner!

You ever get those moments when you're doing trivial things (read the paper, wake up, studying for midterms) and the radio's on, and you suddenly hear a song that you instantly like? But not in a pop-hit kinda way, that's being played over and over again, but really, appreciate the song despite realizing you may never hear it again.

I had that with "In de daluren" of fledgling singer/songwriter Mira. "In de daluren" is hard to translate into English, you could call it "During downtime" or "During off-peak hours at which your phone charges are reduced". But with the latter, you'd probably have one lousy chorus.

Anyway, Mira is a talented 24 year old Belgian from Antwerp, whose big break was winning the Public Award at the Nekka Night 2005 festival and clinching 2nd place overall. Her first album "In de daluren" is both critically acclaimed and loved by a growing amount of fans.

Her music is a very nice piece of "Belgicana" in which she makes cute little songs about cute and less cute little people and situations. Her lyrics are witty, uncomplicated but sometimes poignant and spunky. In the song "En Uwe Maat" ("And your boy", as in "BF") you get the following passage:

En uwe maat
Heeft een goe-fout Hawaï-hemdje aan
En uwe maat
Waar haalt hij die droge humor toch vandaan
En uwe maat
Loopt gelijk Travolta in Saturday Night Fever
Is wa kik krijg
Van uwe maat

Translated freely:

And your boy
He sure got one lame Hawaian shirt
And your boy
Where does he get those lame jokes and wit
And your boy
Look at him, like Travolta on Saturday Night Fever
He gets to me like nothing else
Your boy

Imagine this song with a jazzy set and sung with such mock that girls will recognize it, and guys will laugh at themselves. Wonderful.

Musically, her first album is a blender of pop/rock, jazz and piano ballad. Vocally, her voice is very similar to Cara of the teen band "Spring", but no other comparisons are present to the latter's bubbly kiddie songs. A keen characteristic is the obvious "Antwerp" accent she deliberately uses, which adds a touch of class (because Antwerp is simply thé greatest metropolis east of New York).

A noteable comparison to be made is that to Vanessa Carlton. Both are classically trained on the piano, and feature light pianodriven pop/rock/jazz on their albums. Live and on stage, they are both "the cute chick with the great voice and piano". Recently, she did a cover on a Belgian show in which she delivered a stellar performance.

So, if you're wondering if Belgium has some great new talent coming up, then look no further! You've found her.

Top image courtesy of and Peggy Schillemans.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Figure review backlog

Okay, it's been an awesome long time since I posted. Sorry for that, also, thanks to my good-for-nothing lazy *ss colleague oaf of an admin.

Here's the backlog of figures that still need to be reviewed. I've included one picture of each, just as a sort of preview. Will review them soon (when my laziness subsides).

Mizuho Kazami -- Max Factory

Bought in summer 2006. It was hot. The weather. And still is. The figure. Wonderful detailing, unbalanceable pair of glasses. Mizuho-sensei was on my desk during midterms, she was great company. Picture taken with Canon Powershot A640.

Genshiken: Saki & Ohno -- Gargoyle Gashapons

Bought at the FACTS 2006 convention. Was on top of the world about this. Great genki and detailing for such a small scale. Especially Saki looks great, worthy of one of the coolest female characters in anime. And of the great Yukino Satsuki. Picture taken with Canon Powershot A60 (pwning with 2MP)

Cloud Strife Resin -- Kotobukiya

Also bought at FACTS. Ultimately a bit ugly, but cool to be had whenever replaying FF7. Picture also taken with A60.

Tomoko Hoshina -- Kotobukiya

Bought this just for fun. Very inconspicuous in every way, but decent delivery and detail. Also quite cheap. Picture taken with Canon EOS 350D dSLR.

Tsukishiro Meena -- Sega

Cheap PVC from Sega, who are also known for their flood of cheap Evangelion releases. This figure is actually very good, a copy of the famous figure that donned the desk of Densha Otoko. Great "gambatte ne--" pose! A60 shot.

Ignis -- Max Factory

One of the winning designs of 2006, from the galge "Jingai Makyou". In all respects, the best figure in my collection. Pose, face, hair, body, detail & production. Looks great from all angles, she absolutely loves the camera. Shot with A640.

Tessa & Chidori -- Bome/Kaiyodo

Getting this set was extremely difficult. Released in Japan in May 2006, it was always quickly sold out at most Japanese webshops. BOME figures usually get US/overseas versions, which are often cheaper than the original Japanese releases. In this case, the Japanese was 6800 yen at HLJ (45 eur, with tax and shipping this would become 70-80 eur) while the overseas version is 40 eur including shipping. The overseas version was slated for august 2006, so I put down my preorder. In one of the worst tests of patience ever, this date kept being pushed back, the last date I've seen is March 2007. So I decided to switch to "crazy I-don't-care-about-the-money collector's mode" and ordered with HLJ, at one of their sporadic restocks. My sample was the last (currently "discontinued") of their stock.
The figures themselves are quite exquisite. While not as expressive as other figures (as with most BOME releases), this Chidori is the only Chidori worth getting. The Atelier Sai version is bigger, expensive and ecchi, but ugly. And the Good Smile version is poorly balanced (she's holding a bazooka whilst standing on one leg) and only in bikini.
The detail levels are very high, with subtle creases in the clothes and very crisp hair. Chidori is also holding the big paper fan, one of the most hilarious accessories in any anime. The skin PVC looks a bit "rough", creating the illusion that these figures are handcrafted as opposed to being mass-produced. Tessa-chan's hair is of the grey-blueish semi-transparent sort, similar to the hair of KOS-MOS of Alter.
Pictures taken with Canon A640.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

iPhone - Apocalypse Now

So, the word is out. iPhone.

3,5" 480x320 touchscreen, 4-8GB storage, music-video-photo, WiFi - Bluetooth - internet, 3G cellphone with 2MP camera, GPS

It's basically a PSP (black styling, large display, multimedia) - NDS/PDA (touchscreen) - cellphone - Wifi/Bluetooth hybrid, and is actually not that revolutionary at all. However, the fact that this got Steve Jobs' magic touch and the wide iPod demographic (geeks, girls, normal people) will utterly devastate cellphone and handheld companies, like Nokia, who have been pushing multimedia phones with only marginal success amongst cellphone aficionados and business customers.

Another asset will be that iPhone will have access to a properly equipped content management system (iTunes), so that all that multimedia potential actually will be known and used (as opposed to 3G phones and PSP).

The only thing I can think of this thing lacks, is gaming and homebrew access. However, both of which will be resolved soon after the launch by hordes of iPod hackers and fanboys, I think.

Prices are announced to be between $ 500 and $600. Satisfying your brand-snob-and- geek-instinct comes as a huge, free extra.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

No sleep, first exam and first encounter!

Okay, so I didn't sleep *at all* today. I had an exam Urology, and kept going at it until 0700 am. Then I ate breakfast, drove to uni (actually, my mom drove me), and slept for 45 minutes in the car.

I had a bad feeling about this exam, most likely because I was completely devoid of nervousness. Was it the sleep deprivation, the New Year anime-figurine overdose, or some strange force of the universe? I still don't know, but I went to the venue with a fearlessness only displayed by the most stoic of Jedi heroes (or the most stupid of courageous fools).

Luckily, the exam went pretty well. There were some glitches, but considering the circumstances, I very glad.

But that's not what I'm most happy about. For some time this semester, I've seen this Asian dude having lunch with the PhD students of the professor of Urology. My JDorama experience has allowed me firmly distinguish Japanese from Chinese, Koreans, and so forth. But, the chicken**it I am, I never had the guts to ask him something at the cantina.

After the exam however, I bluntly asked the professor "That Asian he Japanese?". The Force must've been strong in me. And lo-and-behold, he said he was. Moreso, he said I should stop by his desk and say hello!

And so I did..and I had a first conversation with a REAL Japanese person! OMG! You may think it's trivial, but this is HUGE. Gone are the barriers of artificiality of anime and the internet, this was a real, living, breathing Japanese bloke. He was pretty much how I imagined him to be, with the little gestures typical of Japanese: the constant nodding, faulty English (although his English was really very good, by any standards), the slight shyness. I could utter "Hajimemashite", but that's as far as my anime-driven Japanese could bring me. We had a nice initial conversation though, talking about his time in Belgium and from what city he came and from university he was, etc. I even managed to exchange emails with him.

So, pretty much one of the coolest days of the year. And 2007 is only 9 days old! Bitchin'.